Chicken Pox and Shingles in Pregnancy

Chicken Pox and Shingles 1

Chickenpox and shingles are the result of a virus called varicella-zoster. You may have had chickenpox as a child so you could be immune to the virus. The virus can be spread by respiratory droplets such as via coughing. It can also be spread if you come into direct contact with chickenpox blisters that still contain fluid.

Shingles is not a new infection. It’s actually the chickenpox virus that remains in the nerve cells and becomes reactivated. It’s only possible to develop shingles if you had chickenpox in the past. Shingles can be spread only if you come into direct contact with the rash of an infected person.

If you are planning to fall pregnant, it’s advisable to check your immunity to chickenpox with a blood test.

If you are pregnant and exposed to chickenpox or shingles, check your immunity to the virus. If your tests show that you are immune then you will not contract the virus.

In the event that you are not immune, you may need preventative treatment with Varicella Zoster Immunoglobulin which is an injection of antibodies to inactivate the virus. Immunoglobulin should be given within 96 hours of exposure, and is safe in pregnancy.

Chickenpox & Pregnancy

What are the symptoms of chickenpox?

The main symptom associated with chickenpox is red, itchy spots that turn into blisters. Eventually, the blisters crust over and the scabs fall off. The spots don’t need to cover your entire body either. Chickenpox can present as just a few spots on the face, arms, belly and legs. Fever and a general unwell feeling are other signs. Chickenpox symptoms can take up to 21 days to appear after infection.

How can chickenpox affect me as a pregnant woman?

It’s very rare for a pregnant woman to be affected by chickenpox. Some of the potential complications include pneumonia, hepatitis and encephalitis. However, with the right antiviral therapy, it can be managed. Always see a doctor as soon as possible if you feel you might be ill.

When should I get the chickenpox immunoglobulin or the chickenpox vaccine?

Pregnant women who come into contact with the chickenpox virus will need to receive the Immunoglobulin within 96 hours. Chicken pox vaccine itself should not be administered during pregnancy. If you are not immune to chickenpox and are planning pregnancy, you should see your GP for vaccination. Once vaccinated, you should not conceive for 30 days.

How can chickenpox affect my unborn baby?

If you develop chickenpox within the first 20 weeks, there is a chance that your baby could develop foetal varicella syndrome. This is a very rare syndrome but it can occur. Some of the complications include:

  • Scarring
  • Shortened limbs
  • Brain damage
  • Eye defects

If a woman contracts chickenpox after week 20, there is less than a 1% chance that the baby will be affected, however it also could increase the risk of premature labour and delivery.

Should the baby contract chickenpox a few days after birth, it can be very serious. Please contact your doctor immediately if you think you might have been exposed to an infected person, or develop symptoms of chicken pox yourself.

Shingles & Pregnancy

What are the symptoms of shingles?

Typical symptoms include pain, burning, numbness or tingling and pain. A painful rash typically appears several days later as a stripe of blisters on the body.

What risks are there if I develop shingles while pregnant?

In general, your unborn baby won’t experience any adverse effects if you develop shingles while pregnant. Antiviral treatment may be of benefit, so please consult your doctor.

Is it possible to contract chickenpox from someone with shingles?

If you’re not immune to chickenpox, it is possible to contract it from someone who has shingles. However, the risks are very low, particularly if the rash is covered. The only time that you can contract chickenpox from a shingles rash is if the rash is exposed and you touch it.

How is shingles treated in pregnant women?

There is antiviral medication available for shingles but not all types are suitable for pregnant women. If you develop shingles during pregnancy, please speak your doctor about treatment options. It’s best to seek treatment at the first sign of symptoms, as early treatment may relieve symptoms.

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